Saturday, October 31, 2009

Biblical Evidence for Annihilation of Sin (Infused Justification) as Opposed to Mere Forensic, External, Legal Declarations of Justification

St. Francis of Assisi, by Jusepe de Ribera (1642)

Tradition: Short Reflection and Basic Explanation

The Protestant (especially evangelicals and charismatics: and I am from both camps in my background) tends to look at Scripture and say, "what does this teach me?" As far as that goes, there is nothing wrong with it, except when all these individuals start looking at the same Scripture, that they all revere as the inspired, infallible Word of God, yet nevertheless disagree on the interpretation. Then we have a problem, because contradiction means someone is wrong, and wrong is a falsehood, and falsehood comes from you know who. Truth is not relative.

The Catholic Church (contrary to the false stereotype) accepts and encourages the individual to read his or her Bible, but goes much further and deeper than that. G. K. Chesterton said that tradition was the "democracy of the dead." What he was getting at was the communal aspect of historic Christianity. The Catholic believes that the Church has learned a few things through the years, and that these can be passed on, so that we don't have to reinvent the wheel in every generation.

The Catholic not only asks what God is communicating to him individually, but what He has taught all the millions of other Christians through history: holy people, saints, doctors, missionaries, priests, nuns, fervent laypeople. That's the whole thing about the Church fathers. They were the "on-fire" Christians of the early centuries. What did they believe? What can we learn from them?

So it's the "democracy of the dead": not just a head count of those of us who happen to be here today or some vote at a national convention or a poll in Christianity Today. We believe that if God can teach us things personally, that He also teaches other folks, too, and has done so all along, so that we can learn from them. To a large extent, this is what Tradition is. It's really not that complicated of a thing.

Protestants have been accustomed for so long, to run down and disparage Tradition, as "barnacles" on the ship, to be scraped off, or corruption, that they miss the simple, obvious beauty of the thing: the democracy of the dead: the community of the saints, gathered together not just geographically (like the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15) but over time as well, through history.

This is the cool thing about Catholicism. Whatever we can ponder in our heads, the Church has, inevitably, thought about for centuries, and has come to conclusions. Catholics trust these, as a function of trust in God, Who guides and protects His Church, as we believe. It doesn't mean we have always been perfect, but when something has been declared upon by pope, council or official catechism, we can accept it as trustworthy.

The individual doesn't have to figure everything out. That's impractical and, I contend, impossible, anyway. Who of us is the font of all wisdom? How silly is that notion?! Who even wants to have that burden and responsibility? God never meant His Church or the individual Christian to function that way. There is something there far larger than merely our own private judgment and discernment.

That is Catholicism. What has been believed in the past and passed down is extremely important. The Church eventually develops these thoughts and proclaims dogmas, after so many centuries of reflection.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The One-Minute Apologist: Errors in the Paperback First Edition Detailed and Corrected

[originally discovered by my friend John O'Connor; my additional clarifications are in blue; errors in the paperback are in red; corrections are in green]

Page 5 — Footnote #8 cites “Acts 16:14.” This should be “Acts 16:4” instead.

Page 23 — Footnote #2 references 1 Cor 13:1; the actual footnote on page 22 refers, in fact, to 1 Cor 14:1.

Page 29 — Reference to Luke 2:42 near the middle of the page should be, instead, Acts 2:42.

Page 29 — Reference #6 cites Rom 16:17 for a reference to “quarreling.” The word does not appear in that verse. Most likely, it is meant to be Rom 13:13, but perhaps Titus 3:2 or 2 Cor 12:20. I probably had in mind Romans 13:13, but the previous two references mentioned also contain the word, as do 1 Cor 1:11 and 1 Tim 2:8. 1 Tim 3:3 and 2 Tim 2:24 have "quarrelsome", while 2 Tim 2:23 and Titus 3:9 mention "quarrels" -- all in a most negative fashion. Clearly, Paul has no patience for quarrels, and considers them to be serious sins. So my point is amply confirmed, though I erred in my lone citation in the book.

Page 35 — Footnotes #6 and #7 are transposed. Footnote #6 should be Acts 10:1-6 to correspond to the text on pg. 34 (“angel tells Cornelius to ask Peter…”); Footnote #7 should be 2 Peter 1:16–21 to correspond to the text (“Peter authoritatively interprets prophecy”).

Page 60-61 — Footnote #2 reads [Hebrews] “14:18” and “16:7” These are not references to the Epistle of Hebrews as indicated; instead, they are Revelation references — Rev 14:18; 16:7.

Page 79 — Under footnote #5, the reference to 2 John should, specifically, be 2 John 8. I probably should have made the cross-reference more specifically to 2 John 1:5-8, as all those verses have some application to the subject at hand: merit.

Page 81 — Footnote #2 is wrong: [Galatians] “10:12” cannot refer to Galatians because there are only six chapters in that book. I was mistakenly referring again to 1 Cor 10:12. To follow the method of most of the other adjoining footnotes (staying in the same book), the footnote should have been to Galatians 4:9: "but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?" Other passages not mentioned here, that could have been, include 1 Sam 11:6; 18:11-12; Ezek 18:24; 33:12-13, 18; Col 1:23 ("provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard"); and Heb 6:11-12 (" show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end").

Page 98 — The reference “cf Jn 2:9” (Under “Who raised Jesus from the dead?”—Jesus Christ) refers to the wedding feast of Cana. The actual reference should be to John 2:19: "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'"

Page 101 — Under the question toward top of page, “Who is speaking to the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3”–under “Jesus Christ” the reference Rev 12:6 refers to the woman in the wilderness. This was a strange mistake. It should be Rev 2:18: ". . . The words of the Son of God . . ."

Page 110-111 — Footnote #2 refers to Luke 10:29 as an instance where the word for “brother” (Gr. adelphos) is used, translated in this case as “neighbor”. I find that the actual Greek word used is plesion. This was an unfortunate and ultimately erroneous reference because it is not adelphos in Greek (though at that point in the text I wasn't yet referring specifically to adelphos. In any event, adelphos does indeed have a very wide latitude in meaning, as seen in the instances given in the immediate context. Examples of a use roughly equivalent to "neighbor" are numerous; for example: Matt 5:22-24; 7:3-5; 18:15; Acts 1:16 (Peter talking to about 120 people); Acts 22:1 (Paul addressing the Jewish accusers at his trial); 1 Jn 2:9-11; 3:10, 15; 4:20-21; 5:16, etc.

Likewise with Footnote #6—“disciples” is indicated to be the Greek word adelphos. In fact, however, it is the Greek mathetes. This is, unfortunately, true with regard to Matthew 23:1, but not for the other two references: Matt 12:49-50 and John 20:17. Again, it was a case of my blowing one particular reference but not at all being wrong in the general concept or argument being set forth (which is the far more important consideration). Jesus' use of "brethren" or "brothers" for His own disciples (both the twelve and the larger sense of "follower" or Christian), is common: Matt 12:48; 23:8; Mk 1:33-35; Lk 22:32.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,14:16-26) [Sacraments (General) / Two Sacraments Only? / Sign & Seal Only? / Circumcision]

See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

* * * * *

Book IV



16. Previous views more fully explained.

If this is obscure from brevity,


I will explain it more at length.

Brevity is preferred where error is concerned, not only for the patience of the reader, but also for the spiritual sake of the writer . . .

I say that Christ is the matter, or, if you rather choose it, the substance of all the sacraments, since in him they have their whole solidity, and out of him promise nothing.

How ironic that Calvin states this, while at the same time denying that Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity (i.e., physically and substantially) in the Holy Eucharist.

Hence the less toleration is due to the error of Peter Lombard, who distinctly makes them causes of the righteousness and salvation of which they are parts (Sent. Lib. 4 Dist. 1). Bidding adieu to all other causes of righteousness which the wit of man devises, our duty is to hold by this only. In so far, therefore, as we are assisted by their instrumentality in cherishing, confirming, and increasing the true knowledge of Christ, so as both to possess him more fully, and enjoy him in all his richness, so far are they effectual in regard to us. This is the case when that which is there offered is received by us in true faith. Therefore, you will ask, Do the wicked, by their ingratitude, make the ordinance of God fruitless and void? I answer, that what I have said is not to be understood as if the power and truth of the sacrament depended on the condition or pleasure of him who receives it.

To a large extent, this (particularly the final sentence) is in agreement with the Catholic position, as explicated in the previous several sections. Other errors here are very subtle, and so we'll let them pass for the moment. A Catholic feels a bit like a mosquito in a nudist colony when dealing with Calvin: the errors (like flesh in the analogy) are so all-pervasive and multitudinous, one scarcely knows where to go -- what to refute -- first.

That which God instituted continues firm, and retains its nature, however men may vary; but since it is one thing to offer, and another to receive, there is nothing to prevent a symbol, consecrated by the word of the Lord, from being truly what it is said to be, and preserving its power, though it may at the same time confer no benefit on the wicked and ungodly.

Again, we see significant resemblance to ex opere operato, though Calvin strongly rejects the latter. It is probably the case, once again, that Calvin is rejecting (at least partially) a straw man, so that he fails to see the similarities.

This question is well solved by Augustine in a few words: “If you receive carnally, it ceases not to be spiritual, but it is not spiritual to you” (August. Hom. in Joann. 26). But as Augustine shows in the above passages that a sacrament is a thing of no value if separated from its truth; so also, when the two are conjoined, he reminds us that it is necessary to distinguish, in order that we may not cleave too much to the external sign. “As it is servile weakness to follow the latter, and take the signs for the thing signified, so to interpret the signs as of no use is an extravagant error” (August. de Doct. Christ. Lib. 3 c. 9). He mentions two faults which are here to be avoided; the one when we receive the signs as if they had been given in vain, and by malignantly destroying or impairing their secret meanings, prevent them from yielding any fruit—the other, when by not raising our minds beyond the visible sign, we attribute to it blessings which are conferred upon us by Christ alone, and that by means of the Holy Spirit, who makes us to be partakers of Christ, external signs assisting if they invite us to Christ; whereas, when wrested to any other purpose, their whole utility is overthrown.

As always, when reading St. Augustine the Neo-Platonist talking about signs, we need to understand that it is not in such a fashion as to exclude the physical presence in the Holy Eucharist of the Body and Blood of Christ. In other words, the terminology of sign is not antithetical to literalness and physicality.

17. The matter of the sacrament always present when the sacrament is duly administered.

Wherefore, let it be a fixed point, that the office of the sacraments differs not from the word of God; and this is to hold forth and offer Christ to us, and, in him, the treasures of heavenly grace. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in faith, just as wine and oil, or any other liquor, however large the quantity which you pour out, will run away and perish unless there be an open vessel to receive it.

In some sense, then, Calvin agrees that grace is conveyed. But in other places he seems to deny this; so there is a certain internal tension and contradiction in his sacramentology that is often observed.

When the vessel is not open, though it may be sprinkled all over, it will nevertheless remain entirely empty. We must be aware of being led into a kindred error by the terms, somewhat too extravagant, which ancient Christian writers have employed in extolling the dignity of the sacraments.

In English, he is saying, "the fathers were wrong en masse; the Catholic Church of the centuries is wrong, and I am right." When we realize exactly what Calvin's departures from precedent entail, it sounds rather silly and arrogant, in roughly equal measure.

We must not suppose that there is some latent virtue inherent in the sacraments by which they, in themselves, confer the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon us, in the same way in which wine is drunk out of a cup, since the only office divinely assigned them is to attest and ratify the benevolence of the Lord towards us; and they avail no farther than accompanied by the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts, and make us capable of receiving this testimony, in which various distinguished graces are clearly manifested. For the sacraments, as we lately observed (chap. 13 sec. 6; and 14 sec. 6, 7), are to us what messengers of good news are to men, or earnests in ratifying pactions. They do not of themselves bestow any grace,

Here we have the other strain of Calvin's thought, which is "anti-sacramental" from a Catholic perspective, insofar as he denies ex opere operato and the bestowal of grace. He takes the aspect of the individual disposition too far.

but they announce and manifest it, and, like earnests and badges, give a ratification of the gifts which the divine liberality has bestowed upon us. The Holy Spirit, whom the sacraments do not bring promiscuously to all, but whom the Lord specially confers on his people, brings the gifts of God along with him, makes way for the sacraments, and causes them to bear fruit. But though we deny not that God, by the immediate agency of his Spirit, countenances his own ordinance, preventing the administration of the sacraments which he has instituted from being fruitless and vain, still we maintain that the internal grace of the Spirit, as it is distinct from the external ministration, ought to be viewed and considered separately. God, therefore, truly performs whatever he promises and figures by signs; nor are the signs without effect, for they prove that he is their true and faithful author. The only question here is, whether the Lord works by proper and intrinsic virtue (as it is called), or resigns his office to external symbols? We maintain, that whatever organs he employs detract nothing from his primary operation. In this doctrine of the sacraments, their dignity is highly extolled, their use plainly shown, their utility sufficiently proclaimed, and moderation in all things duly maintained; so that nothing is attributed to them which ought not to be attributed, and nothing denied them which they ought to possess. Meanwhile, we get rid of that fiction by which the cause of justification and the power of the Holy Spirit are included in elements as vessels and vehicles,

In other words, he is denying intrinsic sacramental grace and ex opere operato . . .

and the special power which was overlooked is distinctly explained. Here, also, we ought to observe, that what the minister figures and attests by outward action, God performs inwardly, lest that which God claims for himself alone should be ascribed to mortal man.

The men are merely instruments of God's grace, as Catholics understand perfectly well. But Calvin's either/or mentality and anti-sacerdotalism has to inevitably set the instrument (man) over against the Ultimate Cause and Source (God).

This Augustine is careful to observe: “How does both God and Moses sanctify? Not Moses for God, but Moses by visible sacraments through his ministry, God by invisible grace through the Holy Spirit. Herein is the whole fruit of visible sacraments; for what do these visible sacraments avail without that sanctification of invisible grace? ”

And now Calvin sounds traditional again (back and forth; back and forth). The end result of his heretical novelties is anti-traditional, for the most part. The aspects of Calvin's thought that are essentially anti-Catholic tend to prevail in the long run in his followers. This is almost sociologically inevitable when one group deliberately, consciously sets itself against another, as an antithesis. The elements that are most different and innovative become more and more prominent as time goes by, whereas traditional elements become less and less prominent or emphasized.

18. Extensive meaning of the term sacrament.

The term sacrament, in the view we have hitherto taken of it, includes, generally, all the signs which God ever commanded men to use, that he might make them sure and confident of the truth of his promises.

. . . whereas for Catholics, they are seven in number. Sacramentals extend the concept further, though they essentially depend on internal disposition, whereas sacraments have an intrinsic power from God.

These he was pleased sometimes to place in natural objects—sometimes to exhibit in miracles. Of the former class we have an example, in his giving the tree of life to Adam and Eve, as an earnest of immortality, that they might feel confident of the promise as often as they ate of the fruit. Another example was, when he gave the bow in the cloud to Noah and his posterity, as a memorial that he would not again destroy the earth by a flood. These were to Adam and Noah as sacraments: not that the tree could give Adam and Eve the immortality which it could not give to itself; or the bow (which is only a reflection of the solar rays on the opposite clouds) could have the effect of confining the waters; but they had a mark engraven on them by the word of God, to be proofs and seals of his covenant. The tree was previously a tree, and the bow a bow; but when they were inscribed with the word of God, a new form was given to them: they began to be what they previously were not. Lest any one suppose that these things were said in vain, the bow is even in the present day a witness to us of the covenant which God made with Noah (Calv. in Gen. 9:6). As often as we look upon it, we read this promise from God, that the earth will never be destroyed by a flood. Wherefore, if any philosophaster, to deride the simplicity of our faith, shall contend that the variety of colours arises naturally from the rays reflected by the opposite cloud, let us admit the fact; but, at the same time, deride his stupidity in not recognising God as the Lord and governor of nature, who, at his pleasure, makes all the elements subservient to his glory. If he had impressed memorials of this description on the sun, the stars, the earth, and stones, they would all have been to us as sacraments. For why is the shapeless and the coined silver not of the same value, seeing they are the same metal? Just because the former has nothing but its own nature, whereas the latter, impressed with the public stamp, becomes money, and receives a new value. And shall the Lord not be able to stamp his creatures with his word, that things which were formerly bare elements may become sacraments? Examples of the second class were given when he showed light to Abraham in the smoking furnace (Gen. 15:17), when he covered the fleece with dew while the ground was dry; and, on the other hand, when the dew covered the ground while the fleece was untouched, to assure Gideon of victory (Judges 6:37); also, when he made the shadow go back ten degrees on the dial, to assure Hezekiah of his recovery (2 Kings 20:9; Isa. 38:7). These things, which were done to assist and establish their faith, were also sacraments.

Note how St. Peter draws a deliberate analogy from the physically saving of Noah and his family "by water" and the spiritual saving (regeneration) of the baptized:

1 Peter 3:20-21 who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. [21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

This is how the Old Testament word pictures and events are often portrayed in the New Testament: they illustrated physical salvation or deliverance (such as being saved from a fire or flood or battlefield), whereas the New Covenant emphasizes spiritual salvation and eternal life: and in this case, by the direct instrumentality of the sacrament.

19. The ordinary sacraments in the Church. How necessary they are.

But my present purpose is to discourse especially of those sacraments which the Lord has been pleased to institute as ordinary sacraments in his Church, to bring up his worshippers and servants in one faith, and the confession of one faith. For, to use the words of Augustine, “In no name of religion, true or false, can men be assembled, unless united by some common use of visible signs or sacraments” (August. cont. Faustum, Lib. 9 c. 11). Our most merciful Father, foreseeing this necessity, from the very first appointed certain exercises of piety to his servants; these, Satan, by afterwards transferring to impious and superstitious worship, in many ways corrupted and depraved. Hence those initiations of the Gentiles into their mysteries, and other degenerate rites. Yet, although they were full of error and superstition, they were, at the same time, an indication that men could not be without such external signs of religion. But, as they were neither founded on the word of God, nor bore reference to that truth which ought to be held forth by all signs, they are unworthy of being named when mention is made of the sacred symbols which were instituted by God, and have not been perverted from their end—viz. to be helps to true piety.

Calvin assumes (as usual) that this essential corruption has happened, without making any sort of argument to prove that it has indeed occurred. Note that he doesn't even seem to allow for the possibility of reform of the five Catholic sacraments besides baptism and the Eucharist. He simply assumes they are hopeless and ditches them. Needless to say, this is outrageous and unjustifiable. Even the two sacraments he retains are gutted of much of their power, by the denial of baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation.

And they consist not of simple signs, like the rainbow and the tree of life, but of ceremonies, or (if you prefer it) the signs here employed are ceremonies.

Who says ceremonies (arbitrarily pitted against "simple signs") are a bad thing? This is assumed and not proven. Christianity is not a kindergarten religion, such that no one but the simple-minded can comprehend it, and that by means of "simple signs" -- as if ceremony and ritual are to be feared and disdained.

But since, as has been said above, they are testimonies of grace and salvation from the Lord,

Calvin keeps up this droning theme of sacraments as signs or "testimonies" of things already accomplished rather than instruments of these same things. If that were the case, then how can the following passages be squared with his "signs" approach, since the sacrament is specifically said to be the cause of the thing (i.e., salvation and/or remission of sins), not a mere sign of the thing already present?:

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . . [disputed biblical manuscript, but still indicative of apostolic belief]

John 6:50-51 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

John 6:53-58
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; [54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."

Acts 2:38, 40 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . . [40] And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."

Acts 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'

Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Now, since Holy Scripture is not enough for Calvin, and not agreeable to his taste and preferences in the matter of sacraments, we must modify it (Thomas Jefferson-style) in order to be consistent with his theology. Fortunately, we have the Revised Calvin Version (RCV) of the Bible for this purpose:

Mark 16:16 (RCV) He who believes and is baptized shows that he is already saved . . . [disputed biblical manuscript, but still indicative of apostolic belief]

John 6:50-51
(RCV) This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and signify that he is already in a state in which he would not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he proves that that he is already in a state in which he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

John 6:53-58
(RCV) So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you can't give testimony that you already have life in you; [54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood shows that he already had eternal life, and that I was already going to raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood signifies that he already had been abiding in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me was already living because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread gives testimony that he already was living for ever."

Acts 2:38, 40 (RCV) And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to show forth a seal of the already existing forgiveness of your sins; and your prior gift of the Holy Spirit. . . . [40] And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Give sign and testimony by baptism that you have already saved yourselves from this crooked generation."

Acts 22:16 (RCV) And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and show that you have already washed away your sins, calling on his name.'

Romans 6:4 (RCV) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too signify that we already walk in newness of life, which is why we are being baptized.

Galatians 3:27 (RCV) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ as a seal to prove that you put on Christ before you were baptized.

Titus 3:5 (RCV) he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, and not by the washing of regeneration, but by the renewal in the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 3:21 (RCV) Baptism, which corresponds to this, now proves that you are already saved, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as a seal and an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

so, in regard to us, they are marks of profession by which we openly swear by the name of God, binding ourselves to be faithful to him.

As the RCV above amply proves . . .

Hence Chrysostom somewhere shrewdly gives them the name of pactions, by which God enters into covenant with us, and we become bound to holiness and purity of life, because a mutual stipulation is here interposed between God and us. For as God there promises to cover and efface any guilt and penalty which we may have incurred by transgression, and reconciles us to himself in his only begotten Son, so we, in our turn, oblige ourselves by this profession to the study of piety and righteousness. And hence it may be justly said, that such sacraments are ceremonies, by which God is pleased to train his people, first, to excite, cherish, and strengthen faith within; and, secondly, to testify our religion to men.

That's not what the Bible teaches (at least not in the versions other than RCV), but that doesn't seem to trouble Calvin in the slightest.

20. The sacraments of the Old and of the New Testament. The end of both the same —viz. to lead us to Christ.

Now these have been different at different times, according to the dispensation which the Lord has seen meet to employ in manifesting himself to men. Circumcision was enjoined on Abraham and his posterity, and to it were afterwards added purifications and sacrifices, and other rites of the Mosaic Law. These were the sacraments of the Jews even until the advent of Christ. After these were abrogated, the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which the Christian Church now employs, were instituted.

Calvin ignores the other five sacraments. In this he largely follows the thought of John Wycliffe, though the latter's thinking was somewhat less radical.

I speak of those which were instituted for the use of the whole Church. For the laying on of hands, by which the ministers of the Church are initiated into their office, though I have no objection to its being called a sacrament, I do not number among ordinary sacraments.

So ordination is possibly a sacrament, but not an ordinary one. Huh?

The place to be assigned to the other commonly reputed sacraments we shall see by-and-by.

Note that they are common and Calvin's derogatory language of "reputed" as if the case were cut-and-dried.

Still the ancient sacraments had the same end in view as our own

Interesting juxtaposition of "ancient" practice vs. Calvin's . . .

—viz. to direct and almost lead us by the hand to Christ, or rather, were like images to represent him and hold him forth to our knowledge. But as we have already shown that sacraments are a kind of seals of the promises of God,

The RCV (unlike every other Bible version) makes that very clear . . .

so let us hold it as a most certain truth, that no divine promise has ever been offered to man except in Christ, and that hence when they remind us of any divine promise, they must of necessity exhibit Christ. Hence that heavenly pattern of the tabernacle and legal worship which was shown to Moses in the mount. There is only this difference, that while the former shadowed forth a promised Christ while he was still expected, the latter bear testimony to him as already come and manifested.

And sacraments give grace as well.

21. This apparent in the sacraments of the Old Testament.

When these things are explained singly and separately, they will be much clearer. Circumcision was a sign by which the Jews were reminded that whatever comes of the seed of man—in other words, the whole nature of man—is corrupt, and requires to be cut off; moreover, it was a proof and memorial to confirm them in the promise made to Abraham, of a seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, and from whom they themselves were to look for a blessing. That saving seed, as we are taught by Paul (Gal. 5:16), was Christ, in whom alone they trusted to recover what they had lost in Adam. Wherefore circumcision was to them what Paul says it was to Abraham—viz. a sign of the righteousness of faith (Rom. 9:11):—viz. a seal by which they were more certainly assured that their faith in waiting for the Lord would be accepted by God for righteousness. But we shall have a better opportunity elsewhere (chap. 16 sec. 3, 4) of following out the comparison between circumcision and baptism.

There is indeed a biblical parallel drawn by St. Paul between circumcision and baptism, but Calvin takes it too far if he consigns baptism to being only a sign of accomplished election or salvation.

Their washings and purifications placed under their eye the uncleanness, defilement, and pollution with which they were naturally contaminated, and promised another laver in which all their impurities might be wiped and washed away. This laver was Christ, washed by whose blood we bring his purity into the sight of God, that he may cover all our defilements. The sacrifices convicted them of their unrighteousness, and at the same time taught that there was a necessity for paying some satisfaction to the justice of God; and that, therefore, there must be some high priest, some mediator between God and man, to satisfy God by the shedding of blood, and the immolation of a victim which might suffice for the remission of sins. The high priest was Christ: he shed his own blood, he was himself the victim: for in obedience to the Father, he offered himself to death, and by this obedience abolished the disobedience by which man had provoked the indignation of God (Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:19).

Catholics agree with this general soteriology, since it is not yet getting into disputed issues of sola fide, imputation, etc.

22. Apparent also in the sacraments of the New Testament.

In regard to our sacraments, they present Christ the more clearly to us, the more familiarly he has been manifested to man, ever since he was exhibited by the Father, truly as he had been promised. For Baptism testifies that we are washed and purified;

No; it brings about the washing and purification. This is quite clear in Holy Scripture. But if a person insists on reading his peculiar anti-traditional theology into that same Scripture, then nothing can be done except to point out that this is taking place and object to it.

the Supper of the Eucharist that we are redeemed.

Again, it helps cause the redemption; not only signify its prior presence.

Ablution is figured by water, satisfaction by blood. Both are found in Christ, who, as John says, “came by water and blood;” that is, to purify and redeem. Of this the Spirit of God also is a witness. Nay, there are three witnesses in one, water, Spirit, and blood. In the water and blood we have an evidence of purification and redemption, but the Spirit is the primary witness who gives us a full assurance of this testimony. This sublime mystery was illustriously displayed on the cross of Christ, when water and blood flowed from his sacred side (John 19:34); which, for this reason, Augustine justly termed the fountain of our sacraments (August. Hom. in Joann. 26). Of these we shall shortly treat at greater length. There is no doubt that, it you compare time with time, the grace of the Spirit is now more abundantly displayed. For this forms part of the glory of the kingdom of Christ, as we gather from several passages, and especially from the seventh chapter of John. In this sense are we to understand the words of Paul, that the law was “a shadow of good things to come, but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). His purpose is not to declare the inefficacy of those manifestations of grace in which God was pleased to prove his truth to the patriarchs, just as he proves it to us in the present day in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but to contrast the two, and show the great value of what is given to us, that no one may think it strange that by the advent of Christ the ceremonies of the law have been abolished.

No particular objections beyond those already expressed . . .

23. Impious doctrine of the Schoolmen as to the difference between the Old and the New Testaments.

The Scholastic dogma (to glance at it in passing),

. . . which is more than the usual miniscule or nonexistent attention Calvin gives to existing Catholic theological reasoning . . .

by which the difference between the sacraments of the old and the new dispensation is made so great, that the former did nothing but shadow forth the grace of God, while the latter actually confer that it, must be altogether exploded. Since the apostle speaks in no higher terms of the one than of the other, when he says that the fathers ate of the same spiritual food, and explains that that food was Christ (1 Cor. 10:3), who will presume to regard as an empty sign that which gave a manifestation to the Jews of true communion with Christ?

But we have only Calvin's jaded report of what the Scholastics taught, to go by, and I certainly don't trust that, from what we have seen previously.

And the state of the case which the apostle is there treating militates strongly for our view. For to guard against confiding in a frigid knowledge of Christ, an empty title of Christianity and external observances, and thereby daring to contemn the judgment of God, he exhibits signal examples of divine severity in the Jews, to make us aware that if we indulge in the same vices, the same punishments which they suffered are impending over us. Now, to make the comparison appropriate, it was necessary to show that there is no inequality between us and them in those blessings in which he forbade us to glory. Therefore, he first makes them equal to us in the sacraments, and leaves us not one iota of privilege which could give us hopes of impunity. Nor can we justly attribute more to our baptism than he elsewhere attributes to circumcision, when he terms it a seal of the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11).

This is where Calvin errs, and ignores several Pauline indications of baptismal regeneration (seen above).

Whatever, therefore, is now exhibited to us in the sacraments, the Jews formerly received in theirs—viz. Christ, with his spiritual riches. The same efficacy which ours possess they experienced in theirs—viz. that they were seals of the divine favour toward them in regard to the hope of eternal salvation.

It is in reducing sacraments to mere seals and signs that an equality is thereby conferred between Old and New Covenant sacraments. Catholics think that the New Covenant is a significant improvement in terms of outpouring of grace, and our sacramentology reflects that.

Had the objectors been sound expounders of the Epistle to the Hebrews, they would not have been so deluded, but reading therein that sins were not expiated by legal ceremonies, nay, that the ancient shadows were of no importance to justification, they overlooked the contrast which is there drawn, and fastening on the single point, that the law in itself was of no avail to the worshipper, thought that they were mere figures, devoid of truth. The purpose of the apostle is to show that there is nothing in the ceremonial law until we arrive at Christ, on whom alone the whole efficacy depends.

No particular disagreement . . .

24. Scholastic objection answered.

But they will found on what Paul says of the circumcision of the letter, and object that it is in no esteem with God; that it confers nothing, is empty; that passages such as these seem to set it far beneath our baptism.

Calvin's nameless, undocumented "scholastics" teach this way? I don't know who they are. He gives no hard evidence. I do know, however, of one famous "scholastic": St. Thomas Aquinas. And what he says is scarcely distinguishable from Calvin's own argument concerning the parallel between circumcision and baptism:

The Apostle says (Colossians 2:11-12): "You are circumcised with circumcision, not made by hand in despoiling the body of the flesh, but in the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism."

. . . Baptism is called the Sacrament of Faith; in so far, to wit, as in Baptism man makes a profession of faith, and by Baptism is aggregated to the congregation of the faithful. Now our faith is the same as that of the Fathers of old, according to the Apostle (2 Corinthians 4:13): "Having the same spirit of faith . . . we . . . believe." But circumcision was a protestation of faith; wherefore by circumcision also men of old were aggregated to the body of the faithful. Consequently, it is manifest that circumcision was a preparation for Baptism and a figure thereof, forasmuch as "all things happened" to the Fathers of old "in figure" (1 Corinthians 10:11); just as their faith regarded things to come.

. . . Circumcision was like Baptism as to the spiritual effect of the latter. For just as circumcision removed a carnal pellicule, so Baptism despoils man of carnal behavior.

. . . The protecting pillar of cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea were indeed figures of our Baptism, whereby we are born again of water, signified by the Red Sea; and of the Holy Ghost, signified by the pillar of cloud: yet man did not make, by means of these, a profession of faith, as by circumcision; so that these two things were figures but not sacraments. But circumcision was a sacrament, and a preparation for Baptism; although less clearly figurative of Baptism, as to externals, than the aforesaid. And for this reason the Apostle mentions them rather than circumcision.

(Summa Theologica, Third Part, Q 70: Circumcision; Article 1. Whether circumcision was a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism?)

But by no means. For the very same thing might justly be said of baptism. Indeed, it is said; first by Paul himself, when he shows that God regards not the external ablution by which we are initiated into religion, unless the mind is purified inwardly, and maintains its purity to the end;

It's easy to slant a person's teaching if only one aspect of it is mentioned. As we have seen already, St. Paul taught that the baptized "have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27) and states that God "saved us, . . . by the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5). He reported with obvious agreement what Ananias said to him: "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16).

and, secondly, by Peter, when he declares that the reality of baptism consists not in external ablution, but in the testimony of a good conscience.

And in the same passage (1 Pet 3:21) he also says that "Baptism, . . . now saves you." The same Peter preached after the first Pentecost: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). Calvin conveniently decided to bypass both portions. They aren't part of the "sign and seal" playbook, and don't exactly fit into that schema. So they didn't make the "cut."

But it seems that in another passage he speaks with the greatest contempt of circumcision made with hands, when he contrasts it with the circumcision made by Christ. I answer, that not even in that passage is there anything derogatory to its dignity. Paul is there disputing against those who insisted upon it as necessary, after it had been abrogated. He therefore admonishes believers to lay aside ancient shadows, and cleave to truth. These teachers, he says, insist that your bodies shall be circumcised. But you have been spiritually circumcised both in soul and body. You have, therefore, a manifestation of the reality, and this is far better than the shadow. Still any one might have answered, that the figure was not to be despised because they had the reality, since among the fathers also was exemplified that putting off of the old man of which he was speaking, and yet to them external circumcision was not superfluous. This objection he anticipates, when he immediately adds, that the Colossians were buried together with Christ by baptism, thereby intimating that baptism is now to Christians what circumcision was to those of ancient times; and that the latter, therefore, could not be imposed on Christians without injury to the former.

That much is true. But Paul wasn't utterly opposed to circumcision, even in the New Covenant. We know this from Acts 16:3:
Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Some have argued that this was hypocritical on Paul's part in much the same way as Peter was acting hypocritically in the famous incident where Paul rebuked him (Gal 2:11). How great an irony, if in fact that is true!

25. Another objection answered.

But there is more difficulty in explaining the passage which follows, and which I lately quote —viz. that all the Jewish ceremonies were shadows of things to come, but the body is of Christ (Col. 2:17). The most difficult point of all, however, is that which is discussed in several chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews—namely, that the blood of beasts did not reach to the conscience; that the law was a shadow of good things to come, but not the very image of the things (Heb. 10:1); that worshippers under the Mosaic ceremonies obtained no degree of perfection, and so forth. I repeat what I have already hinted, that Paul does not represent the ceremonies as shadowy because they had nothing solid in them, but because their completion was in a manner suspended until the manifestation of Christ. Again, I hold that the words are to be understood not of their efficiency, but rather of the mode of significancy.

I guess these may be some of the reasons why St. Thomas wrote: "circumcision was a sacrament, and a preparation for Baptism."

For until Christ was manifested in the flesh, all signs shadowed him as absent, however he might inwardly exert the presence of his power, and consequently of his person on believers. But the most important observation is, that in all these passages Paul does not speak simply but by way of reply. He was contending with false apostles, who maintained that piety consisted in mere ceremonies, without any respect to Christ; for their refutation it was sufficient merely to consider what effect ceremonies have in themselves. This, too, was the scope of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let us remember, therefore, that he is here treating of ceremonies not taken in their true and native signification, but when wrested to a false and vicious interpretation, not of the legitimate use, but of the superstitious abuse of them. What wonder, then, if ceremonies, when separated from Christ, are devoid of all virtue? All signs become null when the thing signified is taken away. Thus Christ, when addressing those who thought that manna was nothing more than food for the body, accommodates his language to their gross opinion, and says, that he furnished a better food, one which fed souls for immortality. But if you require a clearer solution, the substance comes to this: First, the whole apparatus of ceremonies under the Mosaic law, unless directed to Christ, is evanescent and null. Secondly, these ceremonies had such respect to Christ, that they had their fulfilment only when Christ was manifested in the flesh. Lastly, at his advent they behoved to disappear, just as the shadow vanishes in the clear light of the sun. But I now touch more briefly on the point, because I defer the future consideration of it till I come to the place where I intend to compare baptism with circumcision.

It's not at all clear that the above is necessarily contrary to Catholic teaching. But Calvin is blissfully unaware of this.

26. Sacraments of the New Testament sometimes excessively extolled by early Theologians. Their meaning explained.

Those wretched sophists are perhaps deceived by the extravagant eulogiums on our signs which occur in ancient writers: for instance, the following passage of Augustine: “The sacraments of the old law only promised a Saviour, whereas ours give salvation” (August. Proem. in Ps. 73). Not perceiving that these and similar figures of speech are hyperbolical, they too have promulgated their hyperbolical dogmas, but in a sense altogether alien from that of ancient writers. For Augustine means nothing more than in another place where he says, “The sacraments of the Mosaic law foretold Christ, ours announce him” (Quæst. sup. Numer. c. 33). And again, “Those were promises of things to be fulfilled, these indications of the fulfilment” (Contra Faustum, Lib. 19 c. 14); as if he had said, Those figured him when he was still expected, ours, now that he has arrived, exhibit him as present.

Much like St. Thomas . . .

Moreover, with regard to the mode of signifying, he says, as he also elsewhere indicates, “The Law and the Prophets had sacraments foretelling a thing future, the sacraments of our time attest that what they foretold as to come has come” (Cont. Liter. Petil. Lib. 2 c. 37). His sentiments concerning the reality and efficacy, he explains in several passages, as when he says, “The sacraments of the Jews were different in the signs, alike in the things signified; different in the visible appearance, alike in spiritual power” (Hom. in Joann. 26). Again, “In different signs there was the same faith: it was thus in different signs as in different words, because the words change the sound according to times, and yet words are nothing else than signs. The fathers drank of the same spiritual drink, but not of the same corporeal drink. See then, how, while faith remains, signs vary. There the rock was Christ; to us that is Christ which is placed on the altar. They as a great sacrament drank of the water flowing from the rock: believers know what we drink. If you look at the visible appearance there was a difference; if at the intelligible signification, they drank of the same spiritual drink.” Again, “In this mystery their food and drink are the same as ours; the same in meaning, not in form, for the same Christ was figured to them in the rock; to us he has been manifested in the flesh” (in Ps. 77). Though we grant that in this respect also there is some difference. Both testify that the paternal kindness of God, and the graces of the Spirit, are offered us in Christ, but ours more clearly and splendidly. In both there is an exhibition of Christ, but in ours it is more full and complete, in accordance with that distinction between the Old and New Testaments of which we have discoursed above. And this is the meaning of Augustine (whom we quote more frequently, as being the best and most faithful witness of all antiquity),

Yet St. Augustine was not by any stretch of the imagination closer to Calvin in thought than to the Catholic Church's teaching. For this reason Calvin appears to always be extremely selective in citing him. He denied "faith alone" (sola fide). He denied sola Scriptura, which was an unknown concept among the fathers. He believed in the Real, Substantial Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and in purgatory. He was thoroughly Catholic all down the line.

where he says that after Christ was revealed, sacraments were instituted, fewer in number, but of more august significancy and more excellent power (De Doct. Christ. Lib. 3; et Ep. ad Janur.).

In any event, Augustine believed in seven sacraments, not two.

It is here proper to remind the reader, that all the trifling talk of the sophists concerning the opus operatum, is not only false. but repugnant to the very nature of sacraments, which God appointed in order that believers, who are void and in want of all good, might bring nothing of their own, but simply beg. Hence it follows, that in receiving them they do nothing which deserves praise, and that in this action (which in respect of them is merely passive) no work can be ascribed to them.

Ex opere operato was dealt with in the section on IV, 14:15.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,14:15) [Ex Opere Operato / St. Augustine's & Catholic View of Sacraments vs. Calvin]

See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

* * * * *

Book IV



15. Refutation confirmed by a passage from Augustine.

Hence the distinction, if properly understood, repeatedly made by Augustine between the sacrament and the matter of the sacrament. For he does not mean merely that the figure and truth are therein contained, but that they do not so cohere as not to be separable, and that in this connection it is always necessary to distinguish the thing from the sign, so as not to transfer to the one what belongs to the other. Augustine speaks of the separation when he says that in the elect alone the sacraments accomplish what they represent (Augustin. de Bapt. Parvul.). Again, when speaking of the Jews, he says, “Though the sacraments were common to all, the grace was not common: yet grace is the virtue of the sacraments. Thus, too, the laver of regeneration is now common to all, but the grace by which the members of Christ are regenerated with their head is not common to all” (August. in Ps. 78).

Obviously, people have different levels of grace. Catholics don't quibble with that.

Again, in another place, speaking of the Lord’s Supper, he says, “We also this day receive visible food; but the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the sacrament another. Why is it that many partake of the altar and die, and die by partaking? For even the cup of the Lord was poison to Judas, not because he received what was evil, but being wicked he wickedly received what was good” (August. in Joann. Hom. 26).


A little after, he says, “The sacrament of this thing, that is, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is in some places prepared every day, in others at certain intervals at the Lord’s table, which is partaken by some unto life, by others unto destruction. But the thing itself, of which there is a sacrament, is life to all, and destruction to none who partake of it.”

In other words, it is connected to salvation ("life to all"), just as Jesus explained in John 6.

Some time before he had said, “He who may have eaten shall not die, but he must be one who attains to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; who eats inwardly, not outwardly; who eats with the heart, and not with the teeth.” Here you are uniformly told that a sacrament is so separated from the reality by the unworthiness of the partaker, that nothing remains but an empty and useless figure. Now, in order that you may have not a sign devoid of truth, but the thing with the sign, the Word which is included in it must be apprehended by faith. Thus, in so far as by means of the sacraments you will profit in the communion of Christ, will you derive advantage from them.

Calvin, as is his wont, goes too far and denies an underlying Catholic principle: ex opere operato: the notion that the sacraments have inherent power and have effect precisely because God's power is in them. Catholics agree that the benefits of the sacrament can vary, according to inner disposition, but they also assert ex opere operato, and it is Calvin's aim to deny that. The Catholic view is Christ-centered, whereas Calvin's view is too man-centered on the scale of things. He puts relatively more emphasis on the recipient rather than the Lord of the sacraments, Who uses them to accomplish His purposes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts the proper, balanced view:

1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.

1128 This is the meaning of the Church's affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that "the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God." [footnote: St. Thomas Aquinas, S Th, III, 68, 8] From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature [footnote: cf. 2 Peter 1:4] by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.

St. Augustine (virtually Calvin's chosen "patron saint") accepted ex opere operato. For example, he wrote:

Baptism consists not in the merits of those by whom it is administered, nor of those to whom it is administered, but in its own sanctity and truth, on account of Him who instituted it.

(Cont. Cres., IV)

Whence this great power of water, that it touches the body and cleanses the soul?

(Tractate 80 on the Gospel of John)

To my mind it is abundantly clear that in the matter of baptism we have to consider not who he is that gives it, but what it is that he gives; not who he is that receives, but what it is that he receives . . . Wherefore, any one who is on the side of the devil cannot defile the sacrament, which is of Christ . . . When baptism is administered by the words of the gospel, however great the evil of either minister or recipient may be, the sacrament itself is holy on account of the one whose sacrament it is. In the case of people who receive baptism from an evil person, if they do not receive the perverseness of the minister but the holiness of the mystery, being united to the church in good faith and hope and charity, they will receive the forgiveness of their sins.

(On Baptism; cited by Protestant historian Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, Wiley-Blackwell, 1998, pp. 77-78)

Elsewhere, Calvin explicitly rejects ex opere operato, and in so doing, shows that he scarcely even understands what it is that he rejects:

To show more fully the agreement between the doctrine of the Papists and that which Paul opposes, it must be observed, that the sacraments, when we partake of them in a sincere manner, are not the works of men, but of God. In baptism or the Lord’s supper, we do nothing but present ourselves to God, in order to receive his grace. Baptism, viewed in regard to us, is a passive work: we bring nothing to it but faith; and all that belongs to it is laid up in Christ. But what are the views of the Papists? They contrive the opus operatum, by which men merit the grace of God; and what is this, but to extinguish utterly the truth of the sacrament?

(Commentary on Galatians 5:1-6, section 3; translated by John King)

Calvin scholar David Curtis Steinmetz makes it very clear that Calvin opposed ex opere operato:

From the standpoint of medieval theology, Zwingli and Calvin placed the baptism of Jesus and John on the same level, partly by raising the baptism of John and partly by lowering the baptism of Christ. They elevated the baptism of John by insisting that John preached the gospel and offered the same baptism as the apostles. They lowered the baptism of Christ by arguing that it conferred no grace ex opere operato.

(Calvin in Context, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 168)

Reformed Protestant theologian G. C. Berkouwer explains very well, and fairly and objectively (as he usually does), the differences between Catholic and Calvinist thinking regarding the sacraments and ex opere operato:

Why, then, did the Reformers so unanimously reject ex opere operato? . . .

It is striking that so much agreement exists between Lutherans and Reformed precisely in the rejection of ex opere operato. . . . he [Calvin] objects to the ex opere operato not only because it is incorrect but because (as he remarks) it contradicts the very nature of the sacraments. . . .

[Dave: Calvin writes in IV, 14, 26 (cross-reference cited by Berkouwer, but in Latin footnotes):
It is here proper to remind the reader, that all the trifling talk of the sophists concerning the opus operatum, is not only false, but repugnant to the very nature of sacraments, which God appointed in order that believers, who are void and in want of all good, might bring nothing of their own, but simply beg. Hence it follows, that in receiving them they do nothing which deserves praise, and that in this action (which in respect of them is merely passive) no work can be ascribed to them.]

. . . we must now recognize that the Roman Catholic not only rejects this reproach of magic, but that he also faces a problem of subjectivity in the sacraments. This is already apparent in the pronouncement of Trent, which not only poses the ex opere operato, but also speaks of the problem of the obstacle. It is impossible, therefore, to speak simplistically of the Roman Catholic sacramental doctrine as "magical." . . . a subjective disposition is necessary for the working of the sacrament. Rome never intended to rule out this disposition in an objectivistic manner, but only to deny that this necessary disposition is either causal or meritorious. . . . In spite of all the criticism from the Reformed side, Rome wants to defend the gratuity of grace. . . .

This mode does not simply pit objectivity against subjectivism, nor sacrament-magic against human activity. It does not place the absolute gratuity of grace in opposition to the meritoriousness and the preparation of man. It rather synthesizes and connects these contradictory elements, and precisely in so doing it places itself against the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments. . . .

For the Reformation, the objectivity of the sacraments could no longer depend on the efficacy of infused supernatural grace . . . The sacraments are no longer independent new fountains of grace . . .

The sacrament no longer has the function of infusing supernatural grace, but can only be understood in connection with the word of promise. . . . There is a receiving of the sacrament which is altogether different from the receiving of supernatural grace.

(Studies in Dogmatics: The Sacraments, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1969, pp. 64-65, 67, 69, 74, 76)

The excellent Catholic Encyclopedia article on Sacraments describes Calvin's and Protestantism's errors in this regard and presents the Catholic alternative (paragraphs are my own, for easier reading):

Luther and his early followers rejected this conception of the sacraments. They do not cause grace, but are merely "signs and testimonies of God's good will towards us" (Augsburg Confessions); they excite faith, and faith (fiduciary) causes justification. Calvinists and Presbyterians hold substantially the same doctrine. Zwinglius lowered still further the dignity of the sacraments, making them signs not of God's fidelity but of our fidelity. By receiving the sacraments we manifest faith in Christ: they are merely the badges of our profession and the pledges of our fidelity.

Fundamentally all these errors arise from Luther's newly-invented theory of righteousness, i.e. the doctrine of justification by faith alone (see GRACE). If man is to be sanctified not by an interior renovation through grace which will blot out his sins, but by an extrinsic imputation through the merits of Christ, which will cover his soul as a cloak, there is no place for signs that cause grace, and those used can have no other purpose than to excite faith in the Saviour. . . .

Against all innovators the Council of Trent declared: "If anyone say that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer grace on those who place no obstacle to the same, let him be anathema" (Sess. viii, "If anyone say that grace is not conferred by the sacraments ex opere operato but that faith in God's promises is alone sufficient for obtaining grace, let him be anathema" (ibid., can. viii; cf. can. iv, v, vii).

The phrase "ex opere operato", for which there is no equivalent in English, probably was used for the first time by Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), and afterwards by Innocent III (d. 1216; de myst. missae, III, v), and by St. Thomas (d. 1274; IV Sent., dist. 1, Q.i, a.5). It was happily invented to express a truth that had always been taught and had been introduced without objection. . . . "Ex opere operato", i.e. by virtue of the action, means that the efficacy of the action of the sacraments does not depend on anything human, but solely on the will of God as expressed by Christ's institution and promise.

"Ex opere operantis", i.e. by reason of the agent, would mean that the action of the sacraments depended on the worthiness either of the minister or of the recipient . . . It is well known that Catholics teach that the sacraments are only the instrumental, not the principal, causes of grace.

Neither can it be claimed that the phrase adopted by the council does away with all dispositions necessary on the part of the recipient, the sacraments acting like infallible charms causing grace in those who are ill-disposed or in grievous sin. The fathers of the council were careful to note that there must be no obstacle to grace on the part of the recipients, who must receive them rite, i.e. rightly and worthily; and they declare it a calumny to assert that they require no previous dispositions (Sess. XIV, de poenit., cap.4).

Dispositions are required to prepare the subject, but they are a condition (conditio sine qua non), not the causes, of the grace conferred. In this case the sacraments differ from the sacramentals, which may cause grace ex opere operantis, i.e. by reason of the prayers of the Church or the good, pious sentiments of those who use them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Catholic Church Opens Up a New Avenue for Disaffected Anglicans

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)

See the article today in The Washington Post.

See the actual Church document, Vatican Note on Establishing Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans, put out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and published by Zenit.

See discussion on the New Liturgical Movement website.

See Fr. John Zuhlsdorf's notes and discussion on the What Does the Prayer Really Say? site.

See an article and many further links at the Catholic Culture site.

Anglican reaction detailed in The Telegraph.

Joint Catholic-Anglican statement.

Further links and comments at the Thinking Anglicans site.

Article by Deacon Keith Fournier at Catholic Online.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters' take at In the Light of the Law.

Jimmy Akin's reaction on his blog.

Catholic News Service article.

Catholic News Agency article.

National Catholic Reporter article [liberal].

Creative Minority Report article [liberal and hostile].

I think this is a fabulous development, and one long called-for. As a person who was most influenced in my own journey by Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, and who is very fond of those either part of or formerly of the Anglican tradition (G. K. Chesterton -- my latest book is a collection of his quotes -- , C. S. Lewis [my favorite writer], Malcolm Muggeridge, Robert Hugh Benson [see additional link], Ronald Knox, John Wesley, etc.), I'm very excited about this.

I'm also all for liturgical diversity, according to desires of the faithful, as long as they don't conflict with Catholic norms. So I am as happy about this as I was regarding the wider allowance of the Tridentine Mass. It's a charitable and common-sense move, in my opinion.

And it may very well promote lots more conversions to the Catholic faith, which is always a good thing. Just as the wider use of the Tridentine Mass has tended to "de-radicalize" self-described Catholic "traditionalists," and make them more content within the fold, so this decision will bring in self-described Anglo-Catholics. In both cases legitimate desires were met and more people can start to experience the fullness of apostolic, historic Christianity that the Catholic Church uniquely offers.